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As promised, part the second

15 Mar

I know it hasn’t really been that long since I last posted, but it seems like so much has happened.  For one thing, it’s unnaturally warm and sunny out, which makes me dread summer for the first time in my life.  If MARCH is like this, what does the normally oppressive July-August season hold for us?  Summer is my favorite time of year, hands down, despite our Carolina weather, but this summer in late winter thing is really not my cup of tea.  I need it to still be cool for a couple of weeks (and not just because I’m not ready to mow the lawn).

I’m still getting in my cool season crops, and would like to give them a chance to produce without simply bolting in the heat and checking out for the season.  In the past week I  have scraped together a few afternoons to work in the garden and have managed to accomplish quite a bit.  I worked more on the raised beds, and fully planted one.  I weeded the much neglected asparagus.  I started seeds for lettuce, bok choy, carrots, turnips, bunching onions, spinach, mustard greens, beets, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.  I also transplanted a boatload of onions and some cabbages.  I dug up everything I wanted to keep from the kitchen herb garden and weeded that area to prep for an herb pyramid I’m putting in.  And I harvested a 10 gallon bin of mixed veggies and made roasted turkey soup.

The raised beds are 10 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 16 inches deep, which is a whole lot more dirt than I thought.  Especially considering I didn’t actually have any dirt.   I lined the bottom of the bed with heavy cardboard and some old pizza boxes that the recyclers won’t take, then laid in a layer of leaves that were mulching themselves nicely in the side yard, topped that with a layer of chicken litter from the compost, topped that again with some very composted horse manure, and finished with a thick layer of well composted leaf mulch.  No dirt, just very rich growing medium.  I planted 4 varieties of onions into this — from Dixondale – Red Candy Apple, Candy, White Bermuda and Red Creole.  I broadcast radish seeds across the bed and stuck a couple of rows of turnips in one end, just because I had the room.  I figure the radishes will grow so quickly that I can pull them well before the onions need all that room, and pulling the radishes can help keep the soil good and loose for the bulbs to develop.  That’s my theory anyway.  I also planted the onions a little on the tight side, with the idea that I would be pulling some as spring onions, thinning things out enough for the rest to develop into good heavy storage bulbs.  Except for the Red Candy Apple.  The only reason those are in the garden is for pickles.  These pickles.  We blew through all the jars of these I put back last summer in a shamefully short time, and have been missing them ever since.

I tilled up some more beds and worked more compost in, then planted two varieties of carrots, three kinds of turnips, three kinds of beets, spinach, bok choy and mustard greens.  I needed a new hose nozzle, and a trip to the local hardware store also produced two packages of bare root cabbages for transplant.  Those went into the ground this afternoon, in two rows with more onions in between.

Yesterday I harvested onions, carrots, chard, cabbage, and turnips with greens.  Enough to fill a 10 gallon tub.  It’s mostly carrots, and I want to do something exciting and new with them.  I’ve had good luck with pickled baby squash and bread and butter squash, so I was thinking maybe bread and butter carrots.  If I try it I’ll be sure to post about it.

It’s exactly one month until our last frost date here, but already everything is in full bloom.  The flowers at the top of the page are the peach trees in our backyard.  The plums are exploding with flowers, and the apples are budding like crazy.  No time like now for a good old fashioned ice storm so  I’m keeping my eye on the weather, just in case.

And an observation — I’m fascinated by the idea of companion planting and I noticed this afternoon that the favas I planted alongside arugula are doing WAY better than the favas with carrots and radishes.  So the next beans I plant, I will interplant some arugula and see what happens.

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Soup Smorgasbord

1 Mar

I was cruising the internet a few weeks ago when I came across a great idea — Soup Swap.  You get a group of friends, colleagues, strangers, etc. together and everyone brings 4 quart-sized containers of a great soup.  Then there is swapping!  Everyone goes home with new and exciting soups to stick in the freezer for later, or if you’re like me, pig out on meal after meal.  I immediately emailed a good friend known for her party-hosting prowess and the event was on!

Just to give you an idea of the diversity possible here, we set some parameters based on food sensitivities and preferences, and some of the soups I enjoyed were a delicious vegetarian chunky potato, a tasty chicken black bean tortilla with crispy tortilla chips for topping, and a warming carrot coconut curry.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Are you jealous of the soup bounty?  I can’t wait to do this again once the garden is producing something besides carrots and turnips.  One of our absolute favorite soups is Summer Vegetable Borscht, made with fresh beets and any summer veggies you have lying around.  In season I try to stuff as much of that into the freezer as I can, but we always seem to run out by October.  Another summer soup we can’t live without is Hot Cucumber and Potato, which sounds weird, but is soooo lovely and simple.  It was also the last thing I ate before producing the HoneyBea, so it can fuel some serious exertion, too.  I will be sure to share recipes as the season progresses.

For the Soup Swap I brought another favorite — Good Old Fashioned Tomato.  It’s hard to go wrong with a good bowl of homemade tomato soup.  Dip a grilled cheese or a peanut butter sandwich in it, or as shown here, serve it to a toddler along with a black bean burrito.  Instant meal and instant success.  You can see, HoneyBea is a BIG fan.

Really, it could have been worse. And she's so happy!

I’ve gotten great feedback from the tomato soup recipients as well, all of whom are accomplished soupers in their own right.  So here’s the recipe.  Be warned, this makes enough for a Soup Swap, right at a gallon.  Another way to look at that is Rejoice, it makes a GALLON!  This soup freezes beautifully, is easy to make in LARGE quantities, and can be turned into a lovely bisque with the addition of heavy cream before serving.

This is a batch I made late last summer. Fresh basil is a great addition if you've got a surplus.

Good Old Fashioned Tomato Soup

1 3/4 sticks butter

1/2 cup flour

2 medium onions, coarse chop

1/4 tsp ground allspice

3 cubes veggie bouillon* (or equivalent strong broth, see water amounts below)

1 small can tomato paste

3 28 oz cans tomato (I have since revised this to 3 boxes of Pomi, for a no BPA option, just add an extra cup water)

4 cups water (5 if using pomi, to maintain the gallon volume)

1/2 cup brown sugar

Start by making a nice thick roux with the butter and flour.  Add the chopped onions and stir frequently until those go a little glassy.  The longer you can cook the onions, the richer the flavor, but don’t be a hero.  Add tomato paste, brown sugar and allspice.  This is your soup base.  If you are short on time and need to do this in two stages, here’s a great stopping point.  This base can keep in the fridge for up to a week.  To finish the soup, add veggie bouillon and water, stir until dissolved and add tomatoes. Bring to a simmer then process with a stick blender or in the food processor until all the soup is the desired consistency.  Voila.  Nothing hard about it.  Fire up the griddle, make a stack of grilled cheese, and eat yourself stupid.

*I absolutely love and depend on Rapunzel Vegan Sea Salt and Herb bouillon for so many recipes.  Whole Foods carries it, but they are often out, so I just have a 6 pack shipped to me every 3 months from Amazon.  Although, in looking just now, they appear to be out of stock.  Sigh.

So, who’s up for another Soup Swap?